In which I think about why I’m thinking what I’m thinking, and how.
If I am deciding what to think next, how am I deciding what to decide?
One of the hazards of writing for a living is that one is occasionally asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” “The Internet, of course,” I typically respond but, if pressed, I will talk about my omnipresent notebooks and mind maps and certain software and in fact I do have a methodology of sorts for developing ideas. But the truth is, I find the process as mysterious as anyone and fairly often, as now, I just sit down and start typing to see what comes out.
The real mystery, at least to me, is not, ‘where do ideas come from?’ but, ‘where do thoughts come from?’ That is, how do I know or decide what I’m going to think next? Are all my thoughts reactive, generated solely in response to external events? Or do I, at some level, decide what I’m going to think next? Granted, it feels like I’m in control of my own thoughts, but if I am deciding what to think next, how am I deciding what to decide? And what about the times when I can be pretty sure I’m not in control of my thoughts? When I’m being needlessly paranoid, or when I can’t get a Ricky Nelson song out of my head, it sure feels like the thoughts are being inserted into my head somehow: I’d choose other thoughts if I could, but somehow I can’t.
I’ve meditated, with varying degrees of discipline, for more than half my life and by now I suppose I’ve spent thousands of hours simply sitting and breathing, or at least trying to simply sit and breathe; in those thousands of hours I’ve only succeeded in quieting thought for perhaps a few hundred minutes. The rest of the time I feel assailed by thought, as if thinking is a radio in my head that I can’t turn off, a mental tinnitus beyond cure.
So, are thoughts a sort of disease, an infection that debases a perfectly good brain? Well, I don’t think so but ah, there’s the rub. When we use thought to judge thought we are running up against a certain institutional bias, don’t you think? Thinking about thought is like an eye trying to look at itself – it can’t be done. We can look at a reflection of our eye, or a picture but the direct experience is, to us, forever denied.
The world is full of strangeness, as this blog attempts to document. UFO sightings, Marian apparitions, crop circles, etc., are all exceedingly odd and are fascinating to the extent they are odd. But undue preoccupation with such phenomena can distract us from the very headwaters of weirdness, a source of peculiarity literally closer to us than our own skin; the endless stream of thought passing through our own brains. Should you ever feel that your life is insufficiently peculiar, or that your hold on reality and sanity is, perhaps, overly firm, just try sitting still for a few minutes and try to figure out why you try to figure things out; you’ll find that raging within you is a source of deep mystery, an enigma worthy of a lifetime of contemplation.
At least, that what I think.
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